By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
I am learning to live with old age again.
Anyone who has spent time with aging parents would have a handle on what I mean.
This time, however, I am writing about our dog.
Living with a dog who is slowing down due to age is not easy either.
Buddy, a Springer/Lab mix, is crowding 11. In people years, if there is a bone of truth to this, he would be 70ish. I don’t know how this is calculated but one dog year is the equivalent of 7 of ours. Inexact, to be sure.
This makes me second oldest in our household: three people, two pets – the other is a cat named Soot. For now, we two are close, what’s a couple years between man’s best friend and man? But Buddy turns 11 in the spring and he will leapfrog away of me in terms of age: Seventy-seven. Well, thereabouts.
Compared to Buddy, I am a relative pup at 66.
I should be happy. But I am not.
These days, he sleeps a lot. Far more than he used to.
If we cannot find him on his sofa or in the downstairs TV room, we know where to look. There he is: in our bedroom, curled up on the bed.
He also spends many nights there. Some time, he sleeps at the foot of the bed. Other times, you will find him asleep on my side and other times, on my wife’s. Occasionally, he tries snuggling between us, but that can make for cramped quarters. So one of us has to leave. Doggone it, most often it is me.
He caused some worry a few times in the past month or so.
While on our evening walks, he started limping. He favored his left hind leg and once, struggled even to make it across Woodlawn Road heading toward the college campus.
At first I thought it was because of the bitter cold that we’d had. But then it happened again and it wasn’t even cold that evening. I gently coaxed him to the side of the road where I massaged his leg. After a few minutes he was good to go. Dogged determination got him through.
Arthritis, maybe? Do dogs get arthritis?
There are other signs, like bumps popping up along his back – probably cysts, someone said, and a cataract – a diagnosis from someone who knows far more about pooches than this old hound dog – growing in his left eye.
I asked what this means.
“Blindness,” she said.
I gave it deaf ear’s reaction, I did not want to acknowledge the response. I thought about becoming his seeing-eye-human. Why not, I’m sure he would be my seeing-eye-dog if our roles were reversed.
I put myself in Buddy’s paws:
I limp from time to time, an old hockey-related injury from years ago coming back to haunt me.
I’ve had a cataract removed.
I have the aches and pains that come from “growing old” as a saying goes.
When he was still a pup he earned the nickname “Buddy the anti-gardener”. Anything planted in our flower beds Buddy dug up when I wasn’t around. He dug it up with gusto.
Nowadays I wish Buddy the anti-gardener was back. And Buddy the ball chaser and Buddy the rubber newspaper retriever.
But he takes no interest in playtoys.
There are days I find him with his head resting on one of my stray socks. Maybe it is his security blanket, I don’t know. Or maybe it is his security sock. Maybe its sole offers him a place of wellbeing. I don’t know.
When I sat beside him recently, he lifted his big front paw and plopped it on my hand, a sign of friendship. I know that.
Do dogs sense approach of a time when the “fever of life is over and the work is done”, as John Henry Newman wrote? I don’t know that.
Some days, I think Buddy might know though.
Buddy has me in a rut. I have been here before.
I am living with old age again. Our Buddy’s; my best buddy’s. I am praying for a longer leash on life.